What is Sales Return?

Sales Return

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Sales Return

A sales return refers to the situation where a customer returns a product they’ve purchased, usually because it’s defective, doesn’t meet their expectations, or they’ve simply changed their mind. When a sales return occurs, the seller usually either refunds the money to the customer, offers store credit, or exchanges the product for another item.

From an accounting perspective, sales returns can reduce the total revenue that a business reports because the sale is essentially reversed. In the financial statements, sales returns might be accounted for as a reduction in revenue or as a separate contra-revenue account, which means it’s deducted from gross sales to arrive at net sales.

Sales returns are different from sales allowances, which involve reducing the price of the product but not actually taking it back. Both sales returns and allowances can affect a company’s reported revenue.

It’s important for businesses to monitor their rate of sales returns as high return rates can indicate problems with product quality, discrepancies between product descriptions and the actual product, or issues with the company’s return policy.

For companies with significant sales returns, it may be necessary to establish a sales returns reserve, which is an allowance for future returns based on historical return patterns. This helps in providing more accurate financial statements.

Example of Sales Return

Let’s consider a fictional example involving a clothing store named “Trendy Threads.”


“Trendy Threads” launched a new line of jeans. Excited by the marketing campaign, many customers rushed to buy them. However, after purchase, a number of customers found that the jeans did not fit as advertised.

Over the month of May, “Trendy Threads” reported sales revenue of $100,000 from the new jeans. However, by the end of the month, customers had returned jeans amounting to $5,000.

Accounting for the Sales Return:

  • When the jeans were initially sold:
    • Debit: Accounts Receivable (or Cash) $100,000
    • Credit: Sales Revenue $100,000
  • When the jeans were returned:
    • Debit: Sales Returns and Allowances $5,000
    • Credit: Accounts Receivable (or Cash) $5,000
  • In the Income Statement: The net sales would be reported as $95,000 (which is $100,000 initial sales minus $5,000 returns).


After seeing the number of returns and getting feedback from customers, “Trendy Threads” realizes that there’s an issue with the sizing guide provided for the jeans. They decide to update the sizing guide on their website and offer a more flexible return policy for the affected customers.

Moreover, the store understands that monitoring sales returns is crucial, not only for financial reporting but also for understanding customer feedback and improving their products.

This example highlights how sales returns can give businesses valuable insights into their product quality, customer satisfaction, and potential areas for improvement.

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